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Graduation Options for Students with Disabilities • Final Recommendations

TO: Superintendents, Special Education Directors, Transition Specialists
FROM: Gary M Sherman/Don Anderson, Special Populations Office
DATE: September 5, 2001
RE: Graduation Options for Students with Disabilities • Final Recommendations

During the past three years, the NDE Special Populations Office received numerous calls from parents, educators, and school administrators regarding graduation issues for students with disabilities. The calls were prompted by the 1997 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the clarification that a student's right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) is terminated when the student receives a regular diploma.
The primary question is: "Can a school district allow a student with a disability to participate in graduation ceremonies with their class, award them something other than a regular diploma, then allow the student to continue receiving special education services the following year?" Although it has been our experience that the vast majority of districts allow such a practice, there is no state level statute or rule regarding this issue. As such, it is a school district decision based upon local policy.
Due to the interest expressed by school officials and parents, the Special Populations Office requested the State Transition Advisory Committee to consider the issue and develop guidance for parents and school districts to use when considering local policies regarding graduation. The committee worked diligently for over a year and submitted their recommendations to the Special Populations Office and several interested organizations. The recommendations have received the endorsement of the following:

  • Nebraska Department of Education: Special Populations Office
  • Special Education Advisory Council (SEAC)
  • Nebraska Association of Special Education Advisors (NASES)
  • Nebraska Parent Center

With these endorsements, we are pleased to share with you Graduation Options for Students with Disabilities. Furthermore, the Special Populations Office would like to acknowledge the following individuals for their time and effort in developing the recommendations: Larry Athey-ESU 1, David Brunelle-North Platte High School, Lou Cox-Fornander-ESU 16, Marg Dredla-Scottsbluff High School, Jeanne Heaston-NDE Special Populations Office, and Rita Skiles-ESU 11.
If you have any questions regarding the enclosed recommendations, please contact Jack Shepard at (402) 462-1923.


GRADUATION OPTIONS FOR STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES

Final Recommendations

School administrators and boards of education have raised questions about graduation for students with disabilities. The Nebraska Transition Advisory Committee, appointed by the Nebraska Department of Education Special Populations Section, has developed options for Nebraska school districts to consider in developing graduation guidelines. It is recommended these graduation options for students with disabilities be included in the district's graduation and/or school board policy, and district policy handbook. The Individual Educational Plan (IEP) team is responsible for determining whether a student has completed a course of study that makes him/her eligible to receive a signed, regular diploma. Even if the student with disabilities will continue his/her education program until age 21, the IEP team may recommend that the student would benefit from participation in the graduation ceremony with his/her peers. Upon completion of a course of study that meets the following requirements, the student will be awarded a regular diploma using any of the following program options:

Option 1: A student completes a standard course of study based upon meeting all requirements for graduation and IEP/Transition goals. The student would be eligible to receive a signed, regular diploma and participate in the graduation ceremonies.

Option 2: A student completes the standard or modified course of study but not the IEP/Transition goals.
The student may participate in graduation ceremonies with his/her peers without receiving a signed regular diploma. The student may continue to receive services and supports from the school district until the IEP/Transition goals are met or until the student completes the school year in which he/she reaches the age of 21. At this time, the student will receive a signed, regular diploma.

Option 3: A student completes his/her IEP/Transition goals but not the standard course of study.
When a student's disability prevents him/her from completing the standard course requirements for graduation, the IEP team must identify IEP/Transition goals for graduation that are consistent with the student's individual needs. Upon completion of those goals, the student will be allowed to graduate with a signed, regular high school diploma. A student may elect to participate in graduation ceremonies with peer classmates or upon completion of their course of study.

GRADUATION CONSIDERATIONS:

  • Graduation plans must be a part of all IEPs, for students 14 and over. Graduation should be considered in development of the course of study and reviewed annually.
  • The receipt of a signed, regular diploma terminates the service eligibility of students with special education needs.
  • All diplomas awarded by a school district must be identical in appearance, content and effect, except that symbols or notations may be added to individual student's diplomas to reflect official school honors or awards earned by students.
  • A student who receives a certificate is eligible to continue receiving special education services until receipt of a signed, regular diploma or until the end of the academic year in which the student turns 21.
At the exit IEP meeting the IEP team will review and document that all requirements for receipt of a signed, regular high school diploma have been met.

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